Know the Foe: Navy
A look at No. 22 Navy, which plays USF on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium
Record: 5-1 (4-0 American Athletic Conference)
Wins: Fordham 52-16, Connecticut 28-24, at Tulane 21-14, Houston 46-40, Memphis 42-28
Loss: at Air Force 28-14
Coach: Ken Niumatalolo (ninth season, 73-38)
The breakdown: If the first six games have proven anything, it's that nothing -- not the triple-option or even the guys running it -- has been as critical to the Midshipmen's year-to-year consistency as the way this program goes about its business. "(The scheme) is not why we're winning," Niumatalolo said. "It's the culture of our football program." What does that culture entail? Flawless execution (watch how they cut block), minimal mistakes (Navy's 19.3 penalty yards per game are the nation's fewest), staff continuity and toughness. A year after losing 10 offensive starters, the new batch of Midshipmen has embodied all those qualities, and ranks fourth nationally with 293.2 rushing yards per game. Leading the way has been Newsome High alumnus Will Worth, the backup quarterback who was thrust into duty when starter Tago Smith tore up his knee in the season opener. A senior, Worth has run for at least 100 yards in three of his last four games -- including 201 in Saturday's 42-28 win against Memphis -- but has passed for 688 yards, showing the flexibility in Niumatalolo's offense. Worth's 62 passes in six games are 20 more than Keenan Reynolds attempted last season. Up front, Navy ranks second nationally in Adjusted Line Yards, a metric that essentially separates the ability of a running back from that of his offensive line. For good measure, there's 225-pound FB Chris High (55 carries, 392 yards, five TDs), the type of blocking back that has given USF nightmares recently. Defensively, the Midshipmen continue to operate out of an odd-man front that has been susceptible to the pass (256 ypg) and in the red zone (Opponents are converting 88.2 percent of the time). MLB Micah Thomas, a 249-pound junior who has started the last 19 games, leads the team with 46 tackles.
Odds and ends: Niumatalolo has lost only five assistants in his nine seasons. Six coaches, including Niumatalolo, have been in Annapolis at least 10 years. ... Keep an eye on senior slot back Dishan Romine, whose 28.4 yards per kick return ranks 12th nationally. Speaking of returns, Navy, which gave up a 97-yarder to Rodney Adams last season, surrendered a 100-yarder to Memphis' Tony Pollard on Saturday. ... Worth isn't the only local on the Midshipmen's roster. Sophomore Conner Dorris (CCC) and freshman Zack Quilty (Jesuit) are reserve linebackers. ... Navy is 60-4 under Niumatalolo when entering the fourth quarter with the lead.
Willie Taggart's take: "You watch (Niumatalolo's) football team, they play with discipline, they play with passion, great effort, great energy. Like I say, they're well coached, and Ken has created a culture that that's what you expect. They lost some guys and there hasn't been any letoff."